Napoleon complex

The "Napoleon complex", known informally as small man syndrome, is a syndrome normally attributed to people of short stature. It is characterized by overly-aggressive or domineering social behavior, such as lying about earnings, and carries the implication that such behavior is compensatory for the subject's physical or social shortcomings. In psychology, the Napoleon complex is regarded as a derogatory social stereotype.[1]

British propaganda of the time promoted the idea that Napoleon was short.


The Napoleon complex is named after Napoleon, the first Emperor of the French. Common folklore supposes that Napoleon compensated for his lack of height by seeking power, war, and conquest. This view was fostered and encouraged by the British, who waged a propaganda campaign to diminish their enemy in print and art, during his life and after his death. In 1803, he was mocked in British newspapers as a short-tempered small man.[2] He was actually 5 feet 10 inches (1.78 metres) tall, a few inches or so above the period's average adult male height, depending on the source chosen.[3] Other historians assert that he was 5 feet 7 inches (1.70 metres) because he was measured on a British island 28 years after the French adopted the metric system.[4] Napoleon was often seen with his Imperial Guard, which contributed to the perception of his being short because the Imperial Guards were tall men selected for their height. Other names for the purported condition include Napoleonic complex, Napoleon syndrome and short man syndrome.[5][6][7][4]


In 2007, a study by the University of Central Lancashire concluded that the Napoleon complex (described in terms of the theory that shorter men are more aggressive to dominate those who are taller than they are) is a myth. The study discovered that short men were less likely to lose their temper than men of average height. The experiment involved subjects dueling each other with sticks, with one subject deliberately rapping the other's knuckles. Heart monitors revealed that the taller men were more likely to lose their tempers and hit back. University of Central Lancashire lecturer Mike Eslea commented that "when people see a short man being aggressive, they are likely to think it is due to his size, simply because that attribute is obvious and grabs their attention".[7]

The Wessex Growth Study is a community-based longitudinal study conducted in the UK that monitored the psychological development of children from school entry to adulthood. The study was controlled for potential effects of gender and socioeconomic status, and found that "no significant differences in personality functioning or aspects of daily living were found which could be attributable to height";[8] this functioning included generalizations associated with the Napoleon complex, such as risk-taking behaviours.[9]

Abraham Buunk, a professor at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, concluded that he had evidence of the small man syndrome. Researchers at the university found that men who were 1.63 metres (5 ft 4 in) were 50% more likely to show signs of jealousy than men who were 1.98 metres (6 ft 6 in).[5]

In popular cultureEdit

Singer-songwriter Mariah Carey referenced the Napoleon complex in her 2009 song "Obsessed", accusing someone of being "all fired up with [their] Napoleon complex". The song is widely believed to be a response to rapper Eminem,[10] who had made disparaging remarks about Carey in multiple previous songs. Eminem stands at 5 feet 8 inches (1.73 metres).[citation needed]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Sandberg, David E.; Linda D. Voss (September 2002). "The psychosocial consequences of short stature: a review of the evidence". Best Practice & Research Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 16 (3): 449–63. doi:10.1053/beem.2002.0211. PMID 12464228.
  2. ^ "Greatest cartooning coup of all time: The Brit who convinced everyone Napoleon was short". National Post. 28 April 2016. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  3. ^ David A. Bell, Napoleon: A Concise Biography (Oxford University Press, 2015), p. 18.
  4. ^ a b Owen Connelly (2006). Blundering to Glory: Napoleon's Military Campaigns. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 7. ISBN 9780742553187.
  5. ^ a b Fleming, Nic (13 March 2008). "Short man syndrome is not just a tall story". The Telegraph. Retrieved 17 May 2017.
  6. ^ Morrison, Richard (10 October 2005). "Heart of the Fifties generation beats once again". The Times. Retrieved 17 January 2008.
  7. ^ a b "Short men 'not more aggressive'". BBC News. 28 March 2007. Retrieved 17 January 2008.
  8. ^ Ulph, F.; Betts, P; Mulligan, J; Stratford, R. J. (January 2004). "Personality functioning: the influence of stature". Archives of Disease in Childhood. 89 (1): 17–21. doi:10.1136/adc.2002.010694. PMC 1755926. PMID 14709494.
  9. ^ Lipman, Terri H.; Linda D. Voss (May–June 2005). "Personality Functioning: The Influence of Stature". MCN: The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing. 30 (3): 218. doi:10.1097/00005721-200505000-00019.
  10. ^ Kreps, Daniel (16 June 2009). "Mariah Carey Fires Back at Eminem in New Single "Obsessed"". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 9 June 2022.